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The troublesome R sound – Why is it difficult to say?

If you are wondering why your child can’t produce the /r/ sound correctly, you are not alone. Many parents of young children struggle with this issue. If your child cant produce r, it is likely due to a speech impediment known as rhoticism. There are many reasons why your child may have difficulty pronouncing the /r/. Here are a few reasons why your child may have difficulty pronouncing the /r/ sound and tips to help correct the problem.


In this article we will discuss:


Father helping his child produce the R words Speech Therapy

Why can’t my child produce the /R/ sound?


Your child might say “wabbit” for “rabbit” or “wain” for “rain.” If this sounds familiar, your child may have difficulty pronouncing the /r/ sound correctly. There are a few reasons why your child may have difficulty pronouncing the /r/ sound.



  1. Commonly, /r/ is late to develop because it is a harder sound to produce than some of the other sounds in the English language.

  2. The most common reason why your child can’t produce r is that your child has not yet developed the muscle control necessary to produce the sound correctly. This is especially true for children who are just learning to talk. An example of this is when you see a baby learning to walk. At first, they may fall down a lot, but with time and practice, they eventually get the hang of it. The same is true for learning to produce the /r/ sound. With some time and practice, your child will be able to produce the sound correctly.

  3. One of the reasons why your child may have difficulty pronouncing the /r/ sound correctly is because of the manner and placement how the /r/ sound is produced. There are different mouth position for letter sounds. To make the /r/ sound correctly, the tongue needs to be in a certain position. The tongue also needs to vibrate when producing the sound. This can be difficult for some children because they are not used to positioning their tongues in this way.

  4. Sometimes, kids don’t realize they are not saying the /r/ sound correctly because they don’t hear it when they talk. This is especially true if the people around them (family, friends, etc.) do not produce the /r/ sound correctly either.

  5. Another reason why your child may have difficulty pronouncing the /r/ sound is because of the way the /r/ sound is pronounced in words and sentences. The /r/ sound is pronounced differently in different words. For example, in the word “red,” the /r/ sound is pronounced at the beginning of the word. However, in the word “car,” the /r/ sound is pronounced at the end of the word. This can be confusing for children who are just learning how to produce the /r/ sound.

  6. Another reason is dialect. Some dialects of English do not pronounce the /r/ sound at all. For example, in some dialects of Southern American English, the word “car” would be pronounced as “cah.” This can be confusing for children who are just learning how to produce the /r/ sound and are exposed to different dialects of English.

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When is it a problem?


The /R/ sound is not always easy to produce correctly. At the age of 3-4 years, most children can produce the /r/ sound in isolation (by itself). However, by the age of 4-5 years, most children should be able to produce the /r/ sound in words and sentences. If your child can’t produce r correctly in words and sentences by the age of 5 years, it may be time to seek help from a speech therapist.


Factors affecting /r/ sound production


R words Speech Therapy

There are a few different factors that can affect your child’s ability to produce the /r/ sound correctly.


Studies show that children who are still bottle feeding have a harder time producing the /r/ sound correctly. This is because bottle-feeding can cause a delay in the development of the muscles in the mouth and the different mouth position for letter sounds. These muscles are necessary for producing the /r/ sound correctly.


Other studies show that children who have a family history of speech and language disorders are more likely to have difficulty producing the /r/ sound correctly. This is because speech and language disorders tend to run in families.


Lastly, another study by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) found that children who were exposed to cigarette smoke during pregnancy can cause damage to the developing lungs which may lead to problems in respiration and phonation, resulting to difficulty producing speech sounds correctly.


However, there is no need to worry. There are many ways to help your child learn how to produce the /r/ sound correctly. What’s important is that you seek out help and provide the best possible environment for your child to learn.


There are a few things that you can do to help your child produce the /r/ sound correctly.

  1. The first thing you can do is to help your child learn the correct mouth position for letter sounds. Visual cues are very important to children when they are learning how to produce new sounds. You can do this by having your child practice making the /r/ sound in front of a mirror. This will help your child see how the tongue placement for R. Another visual cue you can provide is to have them see a picture of a person making the /r/ sound. This will help your child see how the mouth should be positioned when producing the /r/ sound.

  2. To help your child understand the /r/ sound better, it is also helpful to associate the sound with a familiar object or animal. For example, you can tell your child that the /r/ sound is a pirate finding a treasure. This will motivate your child to practice the sound while having fun! Making learning fun is key to helping your child succeed.

  3. R sound is a trill. A trill is produced by holding the tongue in place while air vibrates the vocal cords. This can be difficult for some children because they are not used to positioning their tongues in this way. To help them understand this, tell them that when they make the /r/ sound, it is like they are vibrating their tongues like an engine! RRRRR. RRRR. RRRR.

  4. Another thing that you can do to help your child produce the /r/ sound correctly is to provide him or her with lots of opportunities to practice. You can do this by having your child read books that contain words with the /r/ sound or by having him or her watch movies that contain the sound. You can also have your child practice the /r/ sound in front of other people, such as friends or family members. This will help your child feel more comfortable producing the /r/ sound in front of others.

  5. Another way to help your child practice producing the /r/ sound is to have him or her practice saying words that contain the /r/ sound. You can start with simple words that contain the /r/ sound, such as “red” and “car.” Once your child is able to produce these words correctly, you can move on to more difficult words that contain the /r/ sound.



List of words that contain /R/ based on difficulty.



After kids learn how to produce the sound in isolation, they need to practice in the context of words, phrases, and sentences. It is very important to not pressure your child during this time. Remember, learning the tongue placement for R correctly takes time and practice. The goal is for your child to be able to produce the /r/ sound correctly and confidently while making learning fun!

Like any other sound, when learning a new sound, it is important to start with the easiest level and work your way up. The reason for this is that it allows your child to build a solid foundation and confidence with the sound. That’s why we start with producing the /r/ sound at the beginning of a consonant-vowel-consonant word is easier.


Practicing the R words in front of the mirror.

Here are some words to work on first:

  1. Red

  2. Rat

  3. Ring

  4. Rag

  5. Rob

  6. Run

  7. Rush

When kids master producing words at the beginning of the word, they can move on to words that have the /r/ sound in the final position of the word.


Here are some /r/ words to work on next:

  1. Car

  2. Star

  3. Far

  4. Door

  5. Pour

After kids can produce words with the /r/ sound in the beginning and at the end of the word, they can move on to words that have the /r/ sound in the middle of the word.


Here are some words to work on next:

  1. Bark

  2. Horse

  3. Turtle

  4. Siren

  5. Giraffe

Finally, once kids can produce words with the /r/ sound in all positions of words, they should be able to produce the /r/ sound in sentences.


Here are some example sentences that your child can practice:

  1. I saw a red bird.

  2. The rat ran up the stairs.

  3. I found a shiny ring at the park.

  4. The door is open.

  5. Please pour me some juice.


Remember, it is important to provide your child with lots of opportunities to practice the tongue placement for R. The more practice your child gets, the better he or she will become at producing the /r/ sound!


The most difficult position to target is when the /R/ sound is with another consonant or what we call a cluster.

Some words with an /r/ cluster are:

  1. bring

  2. pray

  3. crawl

  4. cry

  5. try

Increasing syllables that have the target sound will also increase the difficulty.

Some long words that have the /r/ sound are:

  1. carrot

  2. ferry

  3. parade

  4. barrier

  5. crocodile

  6. umbrella


There are also many different vocalic /r/ words, which are words that have the /r/ sound in the vowel position.


These include “AR” words like:

car

farm

party

star


“ER” words like:

ferry

nervous

jersey


make learning fun

“EAR” words like:



bear

pear

wear

tears


“IRE” words like:

fire

tire

wires


“OR” words like:



for

more

door

floor


However, do not get discouraged! With practice and time, your child will be able to produce the /r/ sound correctly in all positions and in all words!


Five tips to make learning fun for that stubborn /r/ from a speech therapist.


Kids learn best through play. Here are some games and activities that you can do with your child to help him or her learn how to produce the /r/ sound:


  1. Try saying words that contain the /r/ sound while blowing bubbles. This will help your child feel how his or her mouth should be positioned when producing the /r/ sound.

  2. Make a game out of it! See who can say the most words that contain the /r/ sound in one minute making learning fun!

  3. If your child can’t produce r in a word, make sure to model the correct pronunciation for him or her. Let him or her say the word again and then provide praise when he or she says it correctly.

  4. Encourage your child to make as many different /r/ sounds as he or she can. For example, your child can try saying words that start with the /r/ sound, such as “red” and “run.” Then, your child can try saying words that end with the /r/ sound, such as “car” and “star.” Finally, your child can try saying words that have the /r/ sound in the middle of the word, such as “turtle” and “giraffe.”

  5. Practice, practice, practice! The more practice your child gets, the better he or she will become at producing the /r/ sound!


If your child has difficulties producing /r/ sounds, they might be having difficulties with other sounds as well.


If they have difficulties with the tongue placement for R, they might have trouble with other sounds that are made in a similar way such as /l/, /t/, /d/, /n/, and /s/.


A speech-language pathologist can help!


Each child is different and will learn at his or her own pace. If you feel like your child is struggling and can’t produce r, don’t hesitate to seek out help from a speech-language pathologist. A speech therapist can help your child learn the correct mouth position for speech sounds and can provide him or her with more opportunities to practice producing the sound.


He or she can also assess your child’s ability to produce the /r/ sound and determine whether or not there is a more serious underlying problem. At Better Speech, we offer online speech therapy services convenient for you and tailored to your child's individual needs. Our services are affordable and effective - get Better Speech now.


 

About the Author

Mikee Larrazabal


I am a Speech-Language Pathologist with 14 years of experience working with children and adults who have communication difficulties. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science at Cebu Doctors' University and have been helping people overcome their communication challenges ever since.


I have worked with individuals of different ages, including toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, adults and seniors. I'm passionate about speech therapy and take great satisfaction in helping people overcome their communication challenges and improve their lives through better communication skills. In my spare time I like reading books, going hiking in nature and taking care of my dog Locas.

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